Harbinger

One of the kids I know arrived at my office this week with a droopy air about him.  I met him for the first time in late June, and I’ve only known him as a cheerful, curious, engaged person. Each time I’ve seen him he’s had new projects and experiences to report. I’ve heard about his building projects, about racing to the car to get away from a thunderstorm, about various other indicators of industry and vitality.  This week, all that was absent.  I asked him what was wrong. “August,” he said without looking up.  “And after August comes September.”

Indeed.  We know that many children don’t look forward to the start of school in September, but we don’t tend to give it much thought, and many even find it funny.  School has such a grip on us, a grip born primarily of habit, that we don’t mind that it does this to children; that so many of them are energized, full of life, until it’s time for school to start up again. Or if we do mind, we feel powerless in the face of it. We hold it as a fact of life that is not.  It’s no fact.  It’s merely the one thing we tried, once upon a time, when we needed to get children out of factories but also to train them to work there compliantly when they were older. Our intentions have always been good, but when we just continue as before without regard for what a system is and isn’t providing in the present, we undermine those good intentions.  School as we know it has never been the only or even best way to teach young people to read and write, navigate the world of numbers, and the rest.

We need something new, really new, and we’ve needed it for a long time.  We get this reminder of it from children each year as the summer winds down. We need a new plan for our young that matches the challenges and realities of the time we live in now, the demands of the workplace now, the full uses of human intellectual and physical potential (now that we have technology to do much of what we’ve needed our brains and bodies for before). If we endeavor to build such a thing, we’ll find that much of what young people are curious about and compelled to explore and pursue when they have the freedom to do so is the very stuff they’ll actually need to thrive as adults in the future. And then we’ll get September back. August too.

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